Volume LVIIINovember 2011Number 4

Random Act Of Kindness Grows Into
District Community Service Initiative

Extreme Makeover: Masonic Edition

Children in the Berks County Youth Center shelter went to bed as usual on July 14, mostly unaware of a major makeover about to transform their "home." On July 15, a group of Masons arrived at the shelter, removing old items and hanging shiny new televisions, laying out an air hockey table (among other games) and providing a pizza lunch.

What started as an effort by one staff member, Bro. Matt Menet, St. John's Lodge No. 435, West Reading, and Huguenot Lodge No. 377, Kutztown, to provide the youth with more than just the basic necessities, grew into a Masonic district-wide collaboration.

The results? "Ridiculously successful," according to Bro. Menet.

As a youth advocate and caseworker, Bro. Menet sees an average of 300 abandoned and abused children taken out of their homes overnight and brought to the shelter each year. With counties' budgets rapidly diminishing and government regulations barring public employees from soliciting donations, staff oftentimes use their own money and personal items to provide adequate clothing and toys for the kids.

"Kids wear my coat two out of five days a week," he said.

His coworkers include four Masons, three from Blue Lodges and one from a Prince Hall Lodge. In addition to counseling, caring for and encouraging the youth, staff include them in community services such as Meals on Wheels, tending community gardens and volunteering at local nursing homes and the Humane Society.

"We have found that these children - in desperate times of their own - find peace, pride and self value in being able to assist others in need throughout the community," Bro. Menet said.

Seeing the positive difference Masons make in their communities through Random Acts of Kindness and Lodge Community Service Initiatives, Bro. Menet thought his lodge could "adopt" the shelter as their charity. After speaking with Bro. Ed Stein, District Deputy Grand Master of the 7th District, they decided to make it a district-wide effort.

Before he could solicit donations, as a public employee, he needed special permission from the Berks County commissioners. Unbeknownst to him, one of the commissioners, Bro. Kevin Barnhardt is a Past Master and current member of St. John's Lodge No. 435. Within 24 hours of receiving a letter from Bro. Menet, the commissioners approved his request.

The response from members "blew everyone away," Bro. Menet said. Lodges raised more than $6,000, and donations poured in from local businesses.

Bro. Ed Stein, District Deputy Grand Master for District 7, tries out the new air hockey table. Kids from the Berks Youth Shelter enjoy some food as part of the makeover reveal.

The shelter previously owned two foosball tables and two 19" televisions for entertainment. The overnight makeover added three 46" televisions, a pool table, a ping pong table, an air hockey table, two Xbox 360 video game consoles, a popcorn maker and a mini golf course. Children also received more than 2,500 articles of clothing, cases and cases of hygiene products, more than 75 board games, sports equipment, 30 Phillies tickets, and there is even money left over for future needs.

After seeing how charitable the fraternity is, two staff members from the shelter petitioned to become Masons. "A lot of good has come out of this," Bro. Menet said.

The children were surprised and very appreciative. One girl made of point of thanking everyone in the room. The event received coverage in the local newspaper and Channel 69 news.

The efforts didn't stop that day. Donations continue to pour in. "And I mean pour in!" Bro. Menet said.

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